It is paramount that you understand Lenny Smith, that you really hear what he’s stammering, singing, screaming, spitting or saying. Throughout An Unending Pathway, the third and most despondent LP from his Portland, Oregon quartet Atriarch, Smith mostly pitches his voice above his band’s similarly assorted pile. He is, it seems, a minister of futility, concerned foremost with painting human beliefs of hope and faith and perseverance as “a circle, repeating itself.” He needs you to get the message, so on these seven tracks, he sends the send-ups and tirades high above the music.
There are exceptions, of course, as when a downshift into the din of doom during “Revenant” swallows his invective whole, or when a break into black metal at the start of “Bereavement” batters his howls like pinballs. But Smith is mostly in the clear and in the lead. At the start, for instance, he snaps of staring into void with the nervy sneer of Mark E. Smith, the agile post-punk structure of the verses affording him urgency and clarity. Twenty minutes later, for the finale, “Veil”, he shifts from webs of abrasive effects to taunting monastic chants. He concludes with a curdling yell: “You are the end/ Nothing.”
Polyglot pessimists like Atriarch run the constant risk of speaking too many musical languages to speak very much to anyone at all. Though 2011’s rudimentary Forever the End largely plowed through blown-out, slow-motion doom, the four tracks incorporated heavy doses of dark-wave and crescendos of more athletic metal, too. A year later, they upped that ante considerably for Ritual of Passing, a record that worked like a slingshot between sullen abstraction, death-rock fisticuffs, and panicked tantrums. It was as though, first recorded finished, they’d become confident enough to admit that Swans, New Order, and Mayhem occupied spaces on their collective shelves. The admixture worked, too.
In retrospect, Ritual of Passing feels like a first draft for An Unending Pathway, their debut for Relapse Records and their first album to sound like it wasn’t cut largely in a tin can. Heavy veteran Billy Anderson, whose résumé runs from early High on Fire to late Agalloch, produced An Unending Pathway, and he supplies the quartet with the sort of fortified pulpit they’ve always needed. The subgenres they summon—doom and deathrock, gothic rock and new wave, black metal and harsh noise—are more balanced and better integrated, so that these songs feel less like showcases of Atriarch’s ability to skip between elements they enjoy and more like wholesale integration.
Atriarch sometimes linger too long in one spot, as with the funereal, feedback-heavy end of “Revenant”, but these tunes largely cut restlessness with deliberateness, and vice versa. The fastest moments are emphatic and pummeling, the slowest monolithic and punishing. When Atriarch aim for a hook, as they do for the lashing, swiveling torment of “Collapse”, it sticks. Drummer Maxamillion is essential to this improvement. A bit like Aesop Dekker, he’s seamless and smart, building transitions over multi-second spans rather than jumping errantly from a blast beat to a creeping browbeater. Long before “Entropy” makes its disco-punk leap, he’s subtly picking up the pace and condensing the rests. “Allfather” reaches its radical, post-rock peak only after he’s ratcheted the momentum by squeezing together every rhythmic phrase.
But the real quality that pulls An Unending Pathway together, the durable thread that binds all of these stylistic shifts, is the way the musical dynamism mirrors Smith’s message. These seven songs are unapologetic excoriations of religion and its adherents, or of anyone who invests their infinity in a truth they’ve never held in their hands. Across the lurch of “Allfather”, which suggests the brood and build of clear Atriarch reference point The Nephilim, Smith taunts the omnipotent with a sarcastic coo. He beseeches god to come out of hiding and save “children [who] have lost their way.” And above the arching, barbed guitars at the middle of “Bereavement”, Smith teases those who believe what they’ve taken on faith. “Cut through my skin,” he speak-sings, disdain dripping from his tongue. “And you will not find my soul.”
Sure, it’s simple collegiate agnosticism, but Atriarch plunder influences in a way that funnels a decades-long continuum of collective misery into 40 malevolent minutes. “Veil” recapitulates all of these ideas. The song moves from dense sludge to stretched doom to an electronics-contorted postlude, haunted by the ethereal vocals of Worm Ouroboros’ Jessica Way. But the whole tune hinges on a repeated chorus, which Smith delivers like a narcotized demigod. “Dead on the altar/ I learn to see,” he sings in an even monotone. “This is an illusion/ Pull back the veil.” Smith is trying to warn anyone within earshot of mortality’s unending march toward nothing. Standing on the shoulders of fellow solemn giants, neither he nor Atriarch have ever sounded quite so convincing.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/14xoTtu